I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
I. THE GRAND RELIGIOUS NEED OF MAN IS PURIFICATION. The existence of so many ceremonial religions is a presumption in favor of this. They all speak of offenses in man which require expiation. But the knowledge of the true character of sin is revealed by the Law (Romans 3:19). Sin itself, of course, exists anterior to the knowledge of the Law of Moses, because of the "law of God written upon the heart." In Psalm 14 the universal depravity of the Jews of the age in which the psalmist wrote is very absolutely, declared; and St. Paul, in Romans 3:10, etc., quotes it freely, in proof that Jews as well as Gentiles are under the power of sin. "As his argument is at this point addressed particularly to the Jew, he reasons, not from the sense of sin or the voice of conscience, but from the Scriptures, whose authority the Jew acknowledged. The Jew would, of course, admit the inference as to the state of the Gentile world" (Perowne). The first aim, therefore, of every real religion must be the removal of sin, because:
1. The sense of guilt estranges man from God. Under this feeling of alienation the heart hardens, and the tendency is to cast off the authority of all Divine sanctions.
2. Indwelling sin corrupts and perverts the moral mature. The vision of God is obscured, and as he is the Fountain of moral obligation and perception, moral distinctions become uncertain and confused. Right and truth are not desired for their own sakes; there is no genuine enthusiasm for them. On the contrary, the heart is already biased and bribed on behalf of evil. "Evil, be thou my good," expresses the final stage to which the corruption of the heart may attain; and:
3. Sinful habit and inherited tendency enfeeble the will. This moral weakness may coexist with the clearest perceptions of right and wrong (Romans 7:14-19).
II. RELIGIOUS MINISTRIES ARE TO BE TESTED BY THEIR POWER TO EFFECT THIS,
1. It is the general pretension which they make in common. There may be supernatural evidences, etc., to recommend them, but the practical ground upon which they base their claim to reception is really that, in some way or other, they can settle the question of sin between man and God. To judge them upon this point is not, therefore, to do them an injustice.
2. The standard is common and within human experience. In the measure in which they wean man from sin and reconcile him to the Divine Being, they prove their ability to make good their pretension. A religion whose followers have low moral ideas, or are not in the habit of practising what they profess, must be discredited as a moral power.
3. There are various respects in which this purifying power may show itself:
(1) Spiritual rest. This arises from a sense of forgiveness and of reconciliation with God. In other words, when the consciousness of guilt is removed and the sanctions of righteousness have been honored, the soul is satisfied and loses its fear and dislike to God, trusting, and in time loving, him.
(2) Moral inspiration. If sin has truly been overcomes and the relations of the soul with God are satisfactory, there will be hopefulness and vigor in the discharge of duty, resignation and patience in suffering, and a disposition to do good.
(3) Change of character and conduct. He who did evil and delighted in it will then find his joy in righteousness and holiness. There will he manifest "the fruits of the Spirit," and there will be "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."
III. How THE SUPERIORITY OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION IN THIS RESPECT IS TO BE EXPLAINED.
1. Because it was spiritual and not ceremonial. John anticipated the explanation in his prophecy concerning Christ. He was not, like himself, to baptize with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Now, John's baptism was most significant, perhaps the most significant of the rites of the ceremonial law. Enforced by his moral earnestness, it also exercised a powerful spiritual effect. But it did not produce that which he preached, viz. repentance, in any inward and enduring manner. It was only indirectly spiritual. Duty was powerfully suggested by the symbol, and, where spiritual influence was at work, in many instances a morn! change was produced. But there was, so to speak, no command over that spiritual influence, no ensuring its operation upon the heart. What was needed was something that would go directly to the heart, and renew the moral nature. It is only in the communication of greater spiritual power than existed before that this can take place. A strong moral nature like John's was felt whilst it appealed to men, but, when its immediate influence was withdrawn, the impulses and emotions to which it gave rise died down again. Christ, on the other hand, furnished moral power in the communication of truth under vital and vivid representations. From the fullness of his own spiritual life also there was a constant overflowing of grace and strength. He spake as never man spake; his authority was felt; his example inspired. It was the meaning and spirit of everything he revealed. The conscience was strengthened, and the moral nature filled with new light and life. "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God" (John 6:68).
2. Because it was the communication of Divine life and power. He "baptized with the Holy Ghost." An awful and mysterious expression? The Spirit of God was set free by the atoning work of the Saviour to operate upon the heart and conscience of man. By purifying the outward man John sought to impress men with the sense of their spiritual impurity, and their need of forgiveness and inward cleansing. But only Christ could give purity of heart. He gave life; he inspired. The inward man was renewed, "created after God, in righteousness and true holiness." "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.